Three Steps to Overcoming Intimidation by Customers in Medical Sales
Medical sales representatives all experience some level of intimidation at one
time or another. This article will focus on why it occurs, the problems it can
cause, and how to overcome it.
Why Reps Get Intimidated
Medical sales reps sell to experts in their fields. Whether we are selling to a
physician, a nurse, or a certified technician in one specialty or another, we
assume that they have far more knowledge about their chosen profession than
we ever will. I’m going to focus on the physician for this article, since it is
normally the physician who has the most education and training in his chosen
field of practice.Let’s say that you are a new sales rep for a medical products company, or you
were just given a product line, which is far different from what you have been
selling. Knowing that we possess only a fraction of the knowledge that a doctor
has about a given subject can be intimidating when our job is to offer him a
solution for a problem. We know consciously that we are not an “equal” in his
area of expertise. This kind of thinking reduces our status down a notch from
where we see ourselves when compared to the doctor.
The doctor controls the environment in which we sell. We call on him in his
office, or his clinic, or work with him in his operating room where he is King!
Everyone you meet in that environment will treat him like the boss. We are
selling to someone who is usually in control of his environment – and that can be
Speaking of control, if you are not an experienced, competent, presenter, the
doctor will frequently take control of your sales presentation. When you lose
control, that’s really intimidating…and frustrating!
Also, we always know that the doctor, just like any other customer, has the ability
to reward us (give us business), ignore us (not give us business), or punish us
(take away business that we already have). Many reps feel like they are at his
mercy (and to some extent you are, but so what!) and this can be very
The other intimidation element is that some doctors want to be intimidating.
Many will treat sales representatives as second-class citizens by talking down to
them in ways that suggest they are little more than glorified street vendors.
Being treated like a peon does little for one’s self-esteem, and that can be
There are two problems with intimidation in sales. The first is that you don’t feel
very good about yourself. This also contributes to the second problem which is
you don’t sell very well because your lack of confidence is sensed by the
customer and your intimidation short-circuits your sales abilities.
The 3 Steps to Overcoming Intimidation
1. Develop the Right Attitude
You must consciously adopt an attitude that the customer, in this case the
physician, is at least your equal as a human being. Treat him with the dignity
and respect that he deserves, but see him as an equal, after all – you are both
Attitude is not about “copping an attitude.” It’s about being confident. Too many
medical sales representatives see the relationship with the physician as a one-
way street where it is the doctor providing the rep with business. Aren’t you
bringing something to the table as well? Do you offer products and services that
help the physician improve the care he provides? Are you well versed in product
knowledge that helps to educate the physician and his staff?
Attitude is about seeing yourself as someone who can partner with the customer
to help him get the job done. Sometimes he will act like he can get the job done
without you, but realistically he can’t. Physicians require a vast team to take
care of their patients and a big part of that team is the sales people whose
companies manufacture the products he needs.
“Can’t he buy those products from one of my competitors” you ask? Of course
he can! But you need to believe in your heart that his doing so would not
provide for his patients as well as you and your products can. Why? Because if
you don’t believe that your offering is in many ways superior to your competitors’,
even if it is only because you come with it, then why are you selling this product
or service in the first place?
So that is rule number one – when you walk into the doctor’s environment, you
are a professional with equal standing as a human being. But you must make
sure you are competent, which is rule number two.
2. Develop Competency
Nothing reduces intimidation and improves your attitude like being competent!
Competency in medical sales involves 3 areas:
* Core knowledge about your market segment
* Product knowledge
* Professional selling skills
Core knowledge includes everything you need to know regarding the market
segment or specialty to which you sell. For example, if you are selling a line of
products specific for cardiac surgery, then you need to learn cardiovascular
anatomy and physiology and become knowledgeable regarding the different
cardiac surgical procedures associated with your products. Learn the surgical
protocol, potential problems and solutions, why one procedure is preferred to
Product knowledge is essential! No one that you sell to should know more about
your product than you do! You must master all the aspects of your product lines
including a familiarity with any competitors. Your products must be the area
where “you are the expert.”
Professional selling skills position you as a professional and place you in control
when you are discussing your area of expertise – your products! When you
have confidence in your ability to present your ideas, know how to prepare, and
can handle any situation that gets thrown your way, little can intimidate you.
3. Accept The Worst That Can Happen
Sales people get intimidated because they feel that they have something to lose,
namely the customer’s business or any business opportunities in the future.
Professional, competent sales people know how to leave the door open for
future opportunities when they don’t get the sale or they lose some business to a
competitor. Treat any failure to close new business or loss of business as a
temporary situation. Let the customer know that you will be available when he
needs what you offer, if not today, then tomorrow. Remember that you have
other people to sell to in the mean time.
Intimidation can result in sales when we diminish our opinions of ourselves when
compared to others. Our job is to serve the customer by offering him products
and services that enable him to do his job, or do his job better. When we work
with professionals and see ourselves as competent professionals as well,
intimidation will be a thing of the past.
The best way to overcome intimidation is to not be intimidated. Learn to project
a professional and courteous attitude, and confidence in your abilities at all
times. After all, you are a medical sales professional!